This is why Dragonfly Restaurant chef Dan Landsberg is a rock star

Three cheers for Dan Landsberg, Alex Aland and their all-star team at Dragonfly, the marquee restaurant in Uptown Dallas’ Hotel Zaza. Last night, they celebrated the small-batch wines of Napa’s Kobalt Wines and its free-spirited owner/winemaker, Kevin Carriker.

Like you, I’ve sat through my share of dinners hosted by droning winemakers, but until yesterday, I’d never sipped with one as disarmingly engaging as Carriker.

“Hello, I’m the owner and winemaker of Kobalt,” he began his introduction to a dining table of twenty fans. I’d never tasted Kobalt, so when Landsberg extended an invitation to attend, I agreed.

Turns out Kobalt’s total annual production runs south of 1,200 cases, so Carriker admits he doesn’t ply his limited juice at many wine dinners. His specialty: plush, ripe, Parker-friendly Kobalt Napa cab and cab blends; they can be tough to find outside of restaurants but occasionally pop up on shelves at specialty wine shops like Pogo’s.

“I graduated from high school in 1971,” he told us. “Who remembers the early 70s? LSD was my friend and it still is. It’s hard to get good stuff anymore because it’s hard to cook it. My second label, Windowpane (a cab blend), is named after some of my favorite (LSD).”

His candor didn’t surprise me. He’d already told me about most of his tattoos, which “run from the waist up but not full sleeves because sometimes I have to do real business,” and he’d already shown me his newest body art, a still-ripe calf tattoo salute to the punk band Circle Jerk. And he’d also told me that when he dies, he plans to donate all of his skin to a San Francisco artist to hang on the wall like a wild animal cape.

A minute later, he’s back addressing the group. “I once made a reserve cabernet and called it Special K. Guess what? A cease and desist order from General Mills. Okay, no more reserve cab.”

So why three cheers for Landsberg and Aland? Because Landsberg, the top chef at Dragonfly, and Aland, the hotel’s F&B director, have just as much spunk as Carriker. Aland had the good sense to bring Carriker to town to let him show off his wines (and tattoos) to a receptive crowd. And Landsburg matched the winemaker (and his wines) beat for beat, turning out playful, inventive, and yes, unconventional dishes that involved everything from Madras curry-spiked cotton candy to bobwhite quail prepared in the style of pancetta, to prime beef rib-eye and a mashup of Benton’s ham with hamachi crudo.

Last night’s dinner reminded me why Dragonfly – at least in Landsberg’s and Aland’s hands – remains one of the big-deal restaurants in a neighborhood with big, boozy all-stars.  The mood in the buzzy, glittering dining room changes by the hour, so pick your catbird seat. My favorite is at a four-top along the windows, late in the evening, for Landsberg’s scallops seared in duck fat and a helping of lemon potato puree – or any time Aland pops the cork on one of a dozen special bottles he keeps on hand for guests who show an interest. On my next visit, I’m hoping it will be a bottle of Kobalt.

All photos courtesy of Zaza’s Riley Nail